Monday, November 30, 2009

Sweet and Sour

A little bit of a setback this week as I try to recover from my ITB issues. I say "try" because it's not healed yet. It's not worse, it's not better, it's just different. As I perform all the rolling, exercises and stretches prescribed by Derrick, I find the pain moving around my knee. Is it the ITB, some obscure tendon or muscle, the patella maybe? It's sometimes hard to tell. Despite the constant burn, sometimes barely there, sometimes disturbingly sharp, I experienced some excellent running moments, so this week has been surprisingly good. The low mileage has left me feeling extremely strong for the time where I did run.

As a runner, one of my biggest fear is to not be able to run. Injuries are the Boogie Man. Every 5 minutes you feel the need to see if it still hurts by standing up or poking at it with your finger. Ultimately, this threatens your identity as a runner. You are reminded that this can be taken away from you at any time by the running gods. My brother in law, who is about my age, has Parkinson's. He's had it for a while, one of those rare cases that start early in life. He cannot run. At family function, such as yesterday's birthday dinner, I always feel awkward when the conversation turns to my running excesses. I doubt he knows that he's one of the reason I'm doing this. His life is the ultimate ultra. There's nothing easy about it. In the same way that we ultra runners try to find meaning in an activity that on the surface appears to be meaningless, I hope he can find meaning in his personal ultra. I feel I'm not articulating this very well, but it's the best I can do. I'm no poet.

So I'm not too worried about this injury. It is annoying, a bump on the road. There are worse things than a little pain on the side of the knee.

Monday, November 23, 2009

There's No Such Thing As Too Slow

Last week I ran a hair over 8 hours, which for me is a lot. I've had quite a few bigger weeks this year, but in most cases, I had a race during that week. I had maybe two other weeks where I went north of 8 hours without the mental boost that comes from a race. Mileage wise it was average, because my long runs are now done on trails, usually technical ones where my pace is something I'd rather not discuss.

Case in point: yesterday. My program called for 3:30 to 3:45 on trail. I decided to try a new section of the Bruce Trail and headed up to Milton to do a loop of the Halton Hills side trail. That loop is about 20km and I figured I would neeed to run a bit extra but that's OK. Little did I know. The trail ended up being the most gorgeous section I've run yet except for one thing: the trail surface is just nasty. I've been battling a bit of a knee pain and by the time I was 3:00h in, I had to break the seal on my emergency Advil bottle. A few sections were runnable around the Hilton Falls Conservation area but by then the damage was done. I shuffled the last few kilometers to my car, walking whenever the footing got questionable, which whas often.

On the drive back, sipping on my McDonald's Chocolate shake, I started to wonder if maybe I should run on flatter surfaces where I could sustain a faster pace. Wouldn't that be better training? Then I remembered my most brain numbingly boring training run ever: a 5:30 hour, 50k training run on a pancake-flat bike trail near Welland. I was just a grind. There was no joy involved. I actually listened to music for a couple of hours, something I rarely do. I couldn't believe I finished. Yesterday, the run wasn't quite as long but (other than the knife stabbing at my IT band) I had a great time. I took pictures of some of the nice spots; I lost the trail numerous times and got to play with my GPS; I had to go around flooded sections; I had my first shit in the woods (is that what my kids call "over-share"?); I swore at the tectonic plates and/or glaciers to create so many rocks. Never a dull moment. I'll stick to trail. I figure that if I stick to it, next year I'll think the Iroquoia Trail Test course is nice and easy.

So I was slow on Sunday. Who cares? I had a great time.

I have 48 hours to run 100 miles on February 13. I'll be happy just to finish, and that's a pace of 18 min/km. I better get used to slow. And I look at the bright side: there won't be any rocks!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

White Mountains 100

As you might know, I have all but decided to run the Susitna 100 as a replacement race for the Rock and Ice K-Rock. I haven't registered yet since there are no limits on the number of 100 miler entries. I did (or at least I think Derrick did) change my training to take the earlier (February instead of March) date into account.

I recently heard of another 100 miler in Alaska, the White Mountains 100, to be held on March 20-22 near Fairbanks. It will be the first year the race is held. I am torn. I would love to have an extra month to train. On the other hand, the course seems tougher with quite a bit of elevation change (about +/-7300 feet). Did I mention the water? Reading the course description, there seem to be quite a bit of water overflow on this new course, which might mean wet feet.  Then again, the views seem breathtaking.

I thought the Susitna aid stations were far apart, as far as 12 miles between some of them. Well, some of the White Mountains aid station are 23 miles apart. One of those 23 miles section will almost certainly fall during the first night. Can I deal with that? This probably means as much as 10 hours (maybe even more) without seeing anyone. The worst the conditions, the longer it's going to take. Food for thoughts.

A final problem, the airfare to Fairbanks is almost double the fare to Anchorage, usually with an extra stop, which in my book means an extra opportunity to lose my luggage without which I can't do the race.

Obviously, I am seriously considering doing this race or I wouldn't have considered all those factors. I am a bit worried about being ready for Susitna. Any down time because of injury could jeopardize my race. Having an extra month of training would mean a lot, even if it means a harder course. On the other hand, as much as I'm afraid not to be ready, Susitna is less than 3 months away and I just can't wait to DO IT!

I know that I don't really have to decide right now, although White Mountain is capped at 50 racers. They are up to 11 entries right now, none of them on foot. Mentally though, I'm going to have to decide soon. I simply have to know. Call me shallow, but pulling a tire on a gravel road is just not exciting without a specific goal.

My trainer is being very zen about all that. Wait and see. There's no hurry. Aaaaaaaah!!! I don't know how long I can wait. This is eating me up. I need to choose. You hear Derrick? I just need to.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

More Toys

Not much has happened in the last week. Still increasing the volume a bit. Last week was up to about 7h30min of running. I went for an early 3h trail run on Saturday up in the Terra Cotta area of the Bruce trail. As I was running in the early light, trying not to break an ankle because of the questionable footing hidden under the leaves, I wondered how long it would take someone to find me if anything did happen. I checked phone reception at a few spots and it was hit and miss. I did leave a map of where I intended to go at home, so I knew that at some point someone would come for me but what if I didn't qui follow the trail I was supposed to follow?

So I finally broke down and bought a SPOT Personal Tracker. A new smaller model came out, so I got an older one for about 50 bucks after rebate. You do have to buy the service, which is a bit over 100$/year. I bought the older model because it was cheaper, but also because its operating temperature range is -45C/85C, as opposed to -30C/60C for the newer model. My next race is going to be cold, so I might as well be ready for it.

What is SPOT you say? It's basically a GPS unit with transmit capabilities. The GPS unit keeps track of you location, and you can send one of 3 pre-programmed messages. The first two, OK and HELP, go to a list of email or SMS addresses that you can setup yourself. The 3rd button is a hard coded 911 button that sends your location to the closest rescue authorities as well as your emergency contacts defined in your profile. The satellites cover a large portion of the world including anywhere I could ever dream to go.

I tried the unit and it seems to work as advertized although one must understand that there are limitations. Transmitting a message to outer space with a unit the size of a potatoe using 2 AA batteries as an energy source is an amazing feat of technology. And SPOT can broadcast your location every 10 minutes for up to 14 days on one set of batteries. What this means is that the SPOT unit has to be face up when transmitting a message. I tried transmitting while holding the unit in my hand vertically during a run, and the message did not transmit. If I held the unit logo-up for a little while, the message got sent, as long as there was a decent view of the sky.

The unit is not a replacement for a Garmin 305, as far as tracking your run. But if you find yourself in trouble in the bush, your 305 (or any regular GPS) will only be able to show you where you are. The SPOT unit will let others know you are in trouble, or even just keep track of how you are progressing on that 8 hour long run. With the training that is coming over the next few months, I will feel better carying it.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Bone tired

A lot happened last week. As you probably know, Rock and Ice has been cancelled and I had to look for a replacement race. I decided to go for the Susitna 100. For more on that, go to the previous post.

Training wise, things went fairly well. I ran for a total of 6h15min, not terribly high but decent specially since I took Wednesday off work (mental health day) and squeezed in a sweet extra trail run. My long run yesterday was about 2h15min, also in hilly trails. Even though I went at a reasonable pace, the hills are just HARD. We're talking steep. By the last few uphills yesterday, I could definitely feel the burn.

Because of the fact that I have to be ready to run one hundred miles by February, my weekly running time will now increase fairly quickly. That will be interesting.

In other news, I'm pretty sure my wife came down with swine flu, so it's been hectic last weekend. She was not a happy camper and the weekend was no picnic. She's now getting better. We'll see what happens to me and the kids. She started feeling sick Thursday night and we still feel ok so we might get away with it. We'll see.

Last week I also picked my training tire. That's the tire I will use as a resistor to simulate pulling a pulk (fancy term for sled). apparently you're supposed to name it so I decided to name it "F@cker", because of my initial reaction when I first tried it ("You're a heavy f@ucker!"). I don't really have space to store a tire at my place so I'm using a discarded tire that I've seen on the side of the Don Valley trail. It's been there (with 4 others) for well over 2 years. Now that's recycling. Am I green or what?

Now I have to go out for a short recovery run, but I have to admit that I am bone TIRED.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The King is Dead. Long Live the King.

I guess there's no point crying over spilled milk. R&I is not happening in 2010. Time to move on.

I have considered my options carefully. I had already planned on training for the 100 miler at Haliburton next September. That's one of my A races, but it's way out in September. I'm a forward looking guy but I need something closer to get me excited.

My BQ is still good for 2010; I could do that but I find that an A race is about emotion and Boston (and other large marathons) fails to excite me. Actually, this year I DNS (Did Not Start) Boston so I could run a local 52k trail race (Mudpuppies) instead. Didn't regret it (except maybe when a guy I ran with told me he was Flying the next day so he could do both. You can do that?).

For the first time, I'm picking a goal race that I'm not sure I can finish. After discussing it with my coach Derrick, who thinks it's a strech but doable, here it is: I'm going to run the Susitna 100 in Anchorage, Alaska in February.

The Susitna 100 is not a stage race like R&I. You run it in one go, carrying pretty much everything you need. There are 3 divisions: bike, ski, foot. Obviously, I will be running it. The time limit is 48 hours, which means I will have to sleep on the side of the trail somewhere at least once, probably twice. The aid stations are few and far between and offer mainly water. The winning time is well over 24 hours.

My big hangup is the distance. One Hundred Miles. By February. So little time to train. Still, I have built a solid base this year. I feel so strong right now, that emotionally, I am CERTAIN that I can run 100 miles, given the right pace. The memories of total physical exhaustion after Haliburton (hell, after all ultras) are gone. The Cartesian side of my brain tells me that I my odds of finishing are not 100%. There are a lot of moving pieces in that project.

So here's a rough outline of my 2010 races:

February - Susitna 100 miler
May - Sulphur Spring 50 miler
September  Haliburton 100 miler

I will do some of the OUS races as well, or course.

Like Alice, I'm falling down the rabbit hole, with no bottom in sight. I find myself in a strange universe, populated by crazy people doing extraordinary things. Strange thing is, I'm not looking for the way out.

Monday, November 2, 2009


Need I say more?


I am SO sad. I was so mentally committed. It's going to take a while to sink in.

Big Trail Weekend

After buying so much outdoor crap, it was all but inevitable that I would feel the urge to try all those toys. After an unsuccesful attempt at finding like minded companion for a little running/camping trip, I set out for the Terra Cotta Conservation area, all by my lonesome self. This being Halloween night, my yougest daugthter made sure to ask me if I had seen "The Blair Witch Project".

Because of an issue with my cat, I had a late start and didn't get there until almost 4PM. I left a sign on my dashboard indicating that I would be sleeping overnite and took off. The Terra Cotta trail was very nice. The weather was marginal, covered and really windy, but on the trail it wasn't really an issue. The footing was ok, but you had to be careful because the dead leaves covered everything and it was fairly rocky. At some point I got to a fence right on the middle of the trail, with a big "Private Property" sign. I didn't notice that the fence had a builtin ladder to let pedestrians through so I took a side trail. Only on the way back did I notice the ladder, which I used to run a bit more on the main trail.

My goal with these run was to try my gear, so I had both my Garmin trusty Forerunner 305 and my new eTrex Legend. On the Legend I had loaded the Canada Topo map of the area as well as the "Bruce trail" map from the Bruce Trail Project. Even after this weekend, I'm not comfortable with the eTrex. The map drawing is really slow and I found myself going back to my 305 for navigation. Also, even though I enabled the WAAS option, which is supposed to enhance the precision, the route recorded by my 305 seems more precise than the eTrex. Mind you, at some point I stuffed the eTrex in a side pocket while the Garmin was on my wrist, but still...

So I ended up running about 14k in 1:45, with my pack on, loaded with about 5 lbs of stuff. After my run, I went back to the car, stuffed some more gear in the pack, attached the tent to it, grabbed another bag and hiked to the camp site which was a mile from the trail head. I was in a bit of a rush because it was getting dark fast. The ground was fairly wet but my tent came with a footprint so it didn't cause any problem. I setup my tent, took a picture and got in. The wind was really blowing and it was getting cold.

Inside, I organized a bit. I changed into fresh clothes. To be totally frank, I really didn't feel like firing up the stove. It was a bit nippy and the thought of opening the door to cook was really unexciting. I toyed with the idea of stuffing myself with energy bars, but the whole idea was to try the gear so I opened up the door least exposed to the wind, opened the vestibule and started the stove. The vestibule on that tent if fairly small, so I'm going to be really good at starting the stove before I can cook without opening it. The thought of those flames so close to all that nylon/polyester had me eye the other exit in case I had to make an emergency exit. I boiled my water, dumped it in my Spaghetti with meat sauce and waited a few minutes. I must admit it was really good. 500 calories, lots of carbs and protein. Keeper. I read until about 11:00, changed the time and went to bed.

My sleeping bag was rated at -7C (20F) and the temperature went down to about 0C (32F), so I was quite toasty. Actually, at some point during the night I had to open up a bit because I was HOT. I had a decent sleep, although I admit I did dream that a bear was getting in the tent and I was paralyzed and could not wake up. I slept until about 7:30, longer than I expected. I opened up that tent and  cooked some Scrambled Eggs w/ham and peppers for breakfast. By cook I mean I boiled water and poured it in the pouch. This one was not a winner. It felt really heavy and didn't have enough carbs. The taste was ok, but I won't be bringing that one to Yellowknife.

After breakfast I quickly broke camp and hiked to the car, where i dumped most of my crap. I emptied my backpack, keeping a thermos of Gatorade, my phone and the eTrex. I wasn't supposed to run with a pack, but due to a packing error, I had forgotten my "pee bottle" in the car the night before and had to pee in my water bottle during the night. Rinsing it did not seem sufficient so I decided to use the thermos and I needed the pack to carry that.

For that run, I went south in the Silver Creek area. This trail was really challenging. Few flats, really hard footing. Rocks everywhere. For long sections, you basically have to jump from one rock to the other. All that, with leaves hiding most of the bottom of the trail. In some area, the leaf cover was some complete that it was easy to lose the trail. I had to concentrate so hard on my footing that it was easy to miss a trail marker. It was a beautiful trail though and well worth the effort. Didn't do much mileage in the 1:15 that I ran, though.

When I got home, let me tell you, people kept a safe distance from me until I had my shower, which felt glorious.

I'm really happy with how the weekend went. I'm comfortable with my gear. I know I can eat that dehydrated food for a few days. I probably won't start a major fire in the tent at R&I. My only open issues are about how I can run for 3 days without a shower. I almost hope they keep that tent freezing, because the stench of a few of us will be unbearable.